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The main topic of this week’s parsha (Vayikra) is sacrifices. Regarding sacrifices, we find two unique qualities. First of all, they emit a nice aroma, and second, they don’t seem to profit anybody, including the person who brings the sacrifice. About the first sacrifice mentioned in our parsha (the olat boker), the verse (Lev. 1:9) reads, “It is a fire offering, a pleasant aroma for G-d.” Rashi explains that ‘pleasant aroma’ (reiach nichoach) refers not to a physical smell, but to the pleasure (nachat) that G-d received, since “He said, and His will was done.” That is, G-d commanded us to bring sacrifices (when the Temple still stood), and when we did so, it brought Him pleasure. According to Rashi, that is the ‘pleasant aroma’ that is mentioned in the scripture.

But, if that is the case, Rashi should have said so the very first time that the words “pleasant aroma” were mentioned in conjunction with sacrifices in the Torah. When Noah emerged from the ark, after months of the flood, he offered up sacrifices to G-d, and there the scripture (Gen. 8:20) tells us that they emitted a “pleasant aroma,” causing satisfaction for G-d. And yet there, Rashi says nothing. Why does Rashi neglect to mention anything regarding Noah, and wait until our Torah portion to explain?

Possibly, Rashi mentions nothing regarding Noah because he doesn’t feel it is necessary. Once Noah emerged from the ark after months of confinement, and re-greeted the creation, he obviously experienced elation and gratitude. He expressed his gratitude in the sacrifices that he offered, and they were likewise well-received above, by G-d. That is why the verse there says that “G-d smelled the pleasant aroma” and that He “ceased to curse the land.” Noah’s gratitude and the response that it elicited from G-d need no explanation, and that’s why Rashi makes no comment. However, in our parsha, there is no obvious reason why the sacrifices should give pleasure to G-d. For, what is the difference between these sacrifices and all the other mitzvoth of the Torah? Why is it that regarding the sacrificial offerings the Torah mentions a “pleasant aroma,” whereas regarding all the other six hundred and thirteen commandments there is no mention of an aroma at all? In answer, Rashi explains that here, the “pleasant aroma” indeed refers to G-dly pleasure, since “I said and my will was accomplished.” Rashi wants to tell us something about sacrifices – that they are a unique way of serving G-d that elicits His pleasure - that otherwise we wouldn’t have known. There is something unique about sacrifices that Rashi is coming to explain.

Although it is not the way of Rashi to explain the mitzvoth, (his task was to explicate the simple meaning of the text), it is nevertheless surprising that he offers nothing by way of explanation of the sacrifices. The sacrifices are not a small detail within the Torah – they were the main way of serving G-d within the holy Temple – and it is surprising that Rashi says nothing about how and why they ‘work.’ Indeed, many of the other commentaries, including those that explicate the simple meaning of the scripture (such as the Ramban and Ibn Ezra) have what to say about the sacrifices, so why should not Rashi? Moreover, here the question is not only, “what is the reason,” but the sacrifices seem to be opposed to reason. Why take an animal that is the property of a Jew, and destroy it by slaughtering it and offering it? And why would G-d derive any pleasure from such an act? To this, Rashi explains; simply because “G-d said.” This is the one mitzvah that we do not because there is a reason (even if the reason is unknown to us, and unknowable), but because He said. And therefore, He has pleasure in our performance, which we do only because “He said.”

However, here you could ask, what is the difference between the “chukim” (mitzvoth without any apparent reason) and sacrifices? Chukim also have no reason, and yet we don’t see that the Torah says that they produce a good smell which gives G-dly pleasure? Here, the answer is subtle; it’s true that the chukim have no reason that we are aware of. Nevertheless, they have a reason. When we perform a “chok” (such as shatnez – not wearing wool and linen together, or keeping kosher, etc), we know that there is a reason, even if we don’t know what it is. Our fear of G-d increases when we perform the chok, because even if we don’t know the reason, we know there is one and it is of benefit to us. We just don’t know what that benefit is, nor how to explain it. However, when it comes to the sacrifices, not only do we not know the reason – there is no reason that applies to man. The sacrifices are uniquely and specifically for G-d, and not for man. They are only for Him, and have no benefit for man – not even an unknown benefit. That’s why Rashi says, “a pleasant aroma – since my will was said and done.” It doesn’t matter how, it doesn’t matter the reason – G-d has simple pleasure in the knowledge that what He commanded is what took place.

All this is true if “chukim” are indeed mitzvoth with a reason, albeit one not known to man. However, according to the wording of Rashi (in Exodus 15:26) – “they are without any reason” – chukim are mitzvoth that are without reason altogether, including reasons unknown to us. They do not have a reason at all. So, once more we need to understand the difference, according to Rashi, between chukim and sacrifices. Perhaps we can learn something from the precise wording of Rashi. He says, first of all that G-d has pleasure since “I “said, and My will was done.” Why does Rashi insist on using the passive tense – “was done?” Why not “you did?” Furthermore, why does Rashi say, “I said,” and not “I decreed,” or “I commanded,” since here we are talking about a command?

Here, we find the real difference between chukim and sacrifices. A chok is a degree and command of the King, and its benefit to man is that he becomes aware of the King through the chok. The command that man fulfills gives him the awareness that there is a King, even if he has no idea of the reason for the command. It causes him to accept upon himself the yoke of the King (kabalat ohl malchut shamayim). Sacrifices, however, provide no such awareness. They are not a decree that is from G-d to man, but rather a mitzvah that G-d legislated should take place – whether by man or by some other means. Therefore, Rashi’s wording is precise – “I said” and not “I decreed” or “I commanded” – because the sacrifices are not a command or decree upon man (even if man is the only possible medium to get them accomplished). And “my will was done,” rather than “you did it,” because again, the agent for the performance is not important. It may be that the only possibility agent is man, but nevertheless, this mitzvah is about G-d, not man. Therefore, it is not important that “you do it,” referring to man, but that “it be done,” and hence Rashi uses the passive tense rather than the active.

And that, as well is why Rashi makes his comment on the very first of the sacrifices of our parsha – the nedava, or voluntary offering. The purest instance of “I said, and my will was done,” occurs with the nedava offering, wherein man brings the sacrifice with no selfish intent whatsoever – he wants only to give something to G-d. He is not thinking of any benefit for himself, but only what he can do for the One above, and thereby he causes “a pleasant aroma for G-d, since I said and my will was done.”

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 32, pp. 7-12 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the Old City of Jerusalem